Peter Mason

Jon Lansman is trying to rewrite history over Labour antisemitism

The Momentum founder's account is like Winston Smith expunging inconvenient facts in Orwell's 1984, writes the Jewish Labour Movement's Peter Mason

November 21, 2019 20:58

If you’re a Jewish Labour activist during this General Election, don’t go and see a performance of George Orwell’s dystopian 1984.          

 I did, and it was a traumatising mistake. It seems increasingly like life is imitating art.

The latest example being Jon Lansman’s contribution to the ongoing scandal of Labour Party antisemitism published in the JC this week, seemingly penned on a desk from within the Ministry of Truth.

Like a latter day Winston Smith, Lansman’s task is to rewrite history, consigning the events of the last four years into the memory hole, unthinking all that had happened in the lead into an election that feels like Room 101 for the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community: Corbyn or Brexit.

During the same week that The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were condemned by the Jewish press and Jewish communal organisations for fielding antisemitic candidates, Lansman bizarrely demanded the community be even-handed in its condemnations. It’s an odd formulation to be told by a member of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) that we are whitewashing antisemitism.

Because Lansman’s own record on calling out and campaigning against antisemitism is far from consistent.

As the founder of Momentum, Lansman oversaw a strategy of mass membership recruitment that failed to draw the line at attracting to the Party many of the same people now subject to discipline.

The view that it is more important to control the levers of internal power, than to tackle the casual culture of abuse, bullying and discrimination that is used to maintain this hold over party democracy pervades to this day.

Lansman initially was all too willing to help Labour redefine antisemitism into a version that was more comfortable for the Leadership than the Jewish community.

When eight brave former staff members came forward to blow the whistle on Labour’s institutionalised anti Jewish racism, and endemic political manipulation of the disciplinary system, Lansman smeared their reputations before the Panorama documentary had even aired on television. He is still being sued by a group of them for defamation. 

He continues to maintain the pretence that Labour’s disciplinary processes are adequate and impartial. This is in spite of the more than 130 outstanding cases with the Party’s top disciplinary committee, still languishing years after complainants raised them. Still awaiting judgement because the party have failed to prepare the cases to be heard. In spite of changes that will hand more power to factional allies who have demonstrated their unwillingness to adopt the zero tolerance approach oft said to be the case.

Like the rest of the party’s governing NEC, he still has yet to secure the publication of the party’s response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s investigation of Labour for institutional racism. This is in spite of stripping JLM of its role in political education, because of the Party Leadership’s distaste for the Jewish affection for our national liberation movement: Zionism. 

True, like Orwell’s antihero, there have been moments where Lansman has strayed from the contradictory party doublethink. His condemnation of JVL, his attendance at Limmud, his willingness to have difficult conversations with JLM, his acceptance that there is a deep rooted problem to be tackled, his eventual shunning of Livingstone and Williamson are all events that have led to him being condemned by those on his own side.

As a consequence, Lansman, himself a long-standing Jewish Labour activist has been subjected to some awful conspiratorial antisemitism, a taste of that which drove Luciana Berger and Dame Louise Ellman, as well as countless other councillors and members, out of the party.

Part of me feels sorry for him. These thoughtcrimes have seen him pushed into the outer party. Relegated from the inner party politburo of which he was once a full member. Perhaps this explains why when according to the left’s favourite pollsters Survation, as little as six per cent of the community will be voting for Labour in December 12. He’s returned to trying to convince us all that two plus two does indeed equal five. 

Some feel we’re living through moment fuelled hatred and intolerance. In a world in which people feel less in control of their lives, it’s the duty of politics to give hope for the future.

Instead it’s as if each day the telescreens of speeches, manifesto launches and social media are asking us to believe in a lazy heuristic. That all of the many’s problems would be solved, just so long as we gorge ourselves on hatred of the few. A perpetual hateweek.

For far too long in the history of the Jewish people have we been that ‘few’. Be it the Christian antisemitism of the Middle Ages, the Industrial and Trade Union antisemitism of the 19th century, or the Soviet variety of the 20th.

When the dust settles after polling day, we will continue to face some serious challenges in how we return compassion, compromise and civility back to our political discourse.

The brave and principled members of JLM currently campaigning to keep our key allies like Ruth Smeeth, Margaret Hodge in Westminster, or holding a party that seeks government accountable for its actions through the EHRC know this. They are willing and prepared to secure the change we need from our party.

Two plus two equals four.

Peter Mason is the national secretary of the Jewish Labour Movement

November 21, 2019 20:58

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